High blood pressure at any age for even a short time can speed up cognitive decline, study finds.

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  • Researchers from Brazil monitored 7,000 local adults for a period of four years
  • They measured each individual's memory, verbal fluency and executive function
  • Cognitive decline was worse among those with uncontrolled hypertension
  • This damage can be reduced with antihypertensive drugs, the team found

Experiencing high blood pressure — or 'hypertension' — for even a short amount of time and at any age can speed up cognitive decline, a study has concluded.

Experts from Brazil monitored 7,000 adults — finding that even a short period of hypertension can impact such functions as memory, fluency and concentration.

This decline can be reduced, however, if patients with blood pressure numbers above the normal range of 120/80 mm Hg were given antihypertensive drugs.

In the UK, it is estimated that a quarter of the adult population — some 14.4 million people — have hypertension. Of these, five million are undiagnosed and at risk.

In their study, preventive and social medicine expert Sandhi Barreto and colleagues at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil followed 7,000 adults — with an average age of 59 — for a four-year period.

The team tested the participants' memories, verbal fluency and so-called executive function — which includes such attributes as attention and concentration.

'We initially anticipated that the negative effects of hypertension on cognitive function would be more critical when hypertension started at a younger age,' said Professor Barreto.

'However, our results show similar accelerated cognitive performance decline whether hypertension started in middle age or at older ages.'

In addition, the team noted that cognitive decline was accelerated in those individuals with uncontrolled, compared with controlled, hypertension. 

 'We also found that effectively treating high blood pressure at any age in adulthood could reduce or prevent this acceleration,' Professor Barreto continued.

'In addition to other proven benefits of blood pressure control, our results highlight the importance of diagnosing and controlling hypertension in patients of any age to prevent or slow down cognitive decline.'

'Our results also reinforce the need to maintain lower blood pressure levels throughout life, since even prehypertension levels were associated with cognitive decline.'

 'Although the participants of our study are adults from Brazil, we believe that our findings are applicable to other regions,' Professor Barreto added.

'Previous studies have shown that similar unhealthy behaviours and risk factors — including hypertension — are common in the development of cardiovascular diseases in different populations across the globe.'

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Hypertension.



High blood pressure, or hypertension, rarely has noticeable symptoms. But if untreated, it increases your risk of serious problems such as heart attacks and strokes.

More than one in four adults in the UK have high blood pressure, although many won't realise it.

The only way to find out if your blood pressure is high is to have your blood pressure checked.

Blood pressure is recorded with two numbers. The systolic pressure (higher number) is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body.

The diastolic pressure (lower number) is the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels. They're both measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).

As a general guide:

  • high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher
  • ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
  • low blood pressure is considered to be 90/60mmHg or lower
  • A blood pressure reading between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg could mean you're at risk of developing high blood pressure if you don't take steps to keep your blood pressure under control.

If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, such as the brain, kidneys and eyes.

Persistent high blood pressure can increase your risk of a number of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions, such as:

  • heart disease
  • heart attacks
  • strokes
  • heart failure
  • peripheral arterial disease
  • aortic aneurysms
  • kidney disease
  • vascular dementia

Source: NHS

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